When I see Western leaders smiling, shaking hands and offering sage and heartfelt advice on tours of Africa, I just can’t help settling in for the show because you know some top level hypocrisy is just around the corner.
By far, my favorite part of politics is watching its highest level practitioners ignore whatever inconvenient facts from the past are getting in the way of the blatant self-interest of the present. The French leader visiting Africa? Well you know this is going to be a good one.
Africa is full of elephants, and many of them are political, sitting in the corners of rooms and trumpeting away merrily at the likes of Emmanuel Macron. His ability to ignore the weight of history has proved commendable.
Macron’s been on a tour of East Africa, specifically Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya. He’s not there to make the world a better place, but because economies in Africa are growing fast, in fact six of the top ten fasting growing economies in the world are there.
One of the agreements Macron made on his trip was to build a trainline in Nairobi. If you had any doubt that colonial instincts run deep, then that blast from the past should get rid of it.
Nothing stirs Europe’s colonial powers like the thought of riches up for grabs in Africa, well apart from the thought that someone else might grab them first.
It was much easier to get away with smash and grab forays into Africa when there were no competitors, but there’s a new power in town that goes by the name of China. France doesn’t like the idea of China getting involved in a part of the world where it has had a free run for, well centuries really, and Macron travelled with dire warnings about letting Beijing in the front door.
Problem is, France already kicked the front door off its hinges, stole the sofa and made the people living in the house cook dinner. Historically speaking of course.
Macron warned of China’s growing presence in Africa saying: “I wouldn’t want a new generation of international investments to encroach on our historical partners’ sovereignty or weaken their economies.”
“What can look good in the short term … can often end up being bad over the medium to long term,” he said.
Just to put that little gem into context, Macron also spent some time visiting French troops in Djibouti, because French troops have been stationed there since it became independent from French rule in 1977. I personally would call that long term.
France doesn’t like the fact that China built its own military base there in 2017. But then again, the US built a military base there in 2002. Herein lies the dilemma, because any Western warnings about China’s presence in Africa is going to be hard to take for anyone with the faintest notion of history, or eyes in their head.
For some more of that top level hypocrisy I was talking about, just keep an eye out for how Macron’s tune will change when China’s President Xi is in Paris in a couple of weeks. I bet he’s open for some long term Chinese investment back home.
So are the old colonialists offering anything better than the new ones from the East? China is spending big on infrastructure, literally billions and billions of dollars on ports and power stations, roads bridges and factories across Africa. Neither France nor anyone else can match that. Let’s be frank, whether they’re from the East or West, they’re still rapacious capitalists so you might as well choose the one with the deepest pockets. It’s not just China that’s sniffing about, Russia, Turkey and India are too. In fact India is Africa’s fourth biggest trading partner now.
So what can the West offer? Well the war on terror and airstrikes are still a growth business. Libya remains locked in chaos after being forced to import an excess of Western airstrikes back in 2011, and over in Somalia, hundreds of thousands of people have been forced from their homes, thanks in no small part to a surge in America’s drone led war on terror that is flying under the radar. You’ll be hard pushed to remember the last time China launched airstrikes in Africa.
In the current world of realpolitik where the facade of moral authority has long cracked for the old colonialists, African nations might as well just take the cash, because the problem with the devil you know, is that you know him.
By Simon Rite